At the time of writing, Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn prop up the Premier League table. Here is why they will find themselves in the same position at the end of the season.
Wigan Athletic (P26, W4, D8, L14, F23, A50, Pts-20)
Averaging less than a goal a game, it is clear that while manager Roberto Martinez insists on playing a slick-passing, ‘ball-on-the-deck’ style of football, his players have struggled to do so against teams in the Premier League. As I don’t support Wigan, I don’t feel at all bad in saying this: I would rather they were in the Championship. I would be much more likely to tune in to watch their manager’s footballing philosophy translate onto the pitch against weaker opposition.
As well as being the league’s lowest scorers, they also have the worst goal difference (-27), so it is little surprise that they are the bookies’ favourites for the drop at 1/3. Can Martinez’ team beat the odds yet again?
Bolton Wanderers (P26, W6, D2, L18, F29, A54, Pts-20)
Remember at the end of last season when Owen Coyle was being tipped as Arsene Wenger’s successor at Arsenal? Such talk was quickly hushed as it became apparent Bolton were not quite as good as everyone thought they were and that championing a relatively unproven manager so early in his career was premature.
It used to be that the Reebok Stadium was a fearsome arena where the so-called big teams usually found themselves in a tough, physical game. Under Coyle this season, though, they conceded 13 goals in their home game defeats against Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.
Having conceded 54 league goals in total, they have the second worst defensive record behind Blackburn (59), which emphasises just how much they have missed and will miss their former star centre-back Gary Cahill, who moved in January for £7 million to Chelsea.
Blackburn Rovers (P26, W5, D6, L15, F37, A59, Pts-21)
As the saying goes, the team who are bottom of the league at Christmas gets relegated at the end of the season. This is a bad omen for Blackburn, who found themselves rooted to the foot of the table two months ago. This ‘relegation rule’ has been the case since the Premier League began in 1992, with the exception of West Bromwich Albion’s ‘great escape’ in 2004-2005.
They might have conceded the most league goals this season, but to Blackburn’s credit, and mostly thanks to the form of Yakubu, the only teams to have scored more than them are the teams that currently make up the top six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle). That said, it’s hard for a team to get positive results when they are conceding on average two goals per game, and that is what will ultimately prove to be their downfall.
As for the other relegation contenders…
Queens Park Rangers (P26, W5, D6, L15, F27, A45, Pts-21)
It hasn’t quite happened yet for Mark Hughes at QPR. On paper, they seemed like the promoted club who had the best chance of surviving in the Premier League – they had made a few good signings, had free-spending owners and had won the Championship the year before. However, Norwich and Swansea have just about reached that magic 40-point mark, while Hughes’ team are just one point from the bottom of the league. Simply put, I feel they will beat the drop because they have better players (namely Barton, Wright-Phillips, Taarabt and new signings Zamora and Cisse) than the teams who currently sit below them.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (P26, W5, D7, L14, F30, A51, Pts-22)
Following Mick McCarthy’s sacking, assistant manager has Terry Connor taken over as manager till the end of the season. Despite clearly not being the board’s first choice for the job, he will take heart from his team’s showing in their 2-2 draw away at Newcastle (having trailed 2-0 at half-time). If striker Steven Fletcher can maintain his great form till the end of the season, they will have enough experience and firepower to see them avoid the drop. Just. Again.
Aston Villa (P26, W6, D11, L9, F29, A34, Pts-29)
If Newcastle United’s relegation in the 2008-2009 season taught us anything, it was that no team is too big to go down. ‘Sleeping giants’ Villa have been pretty uninspiring this season, with fans becoming increasing disenchanted with manager Alex McLeish’s perceived negative tactics. The Premier League’s draw specialists have a tough run in, with games against five of the top seven teams to come, and Darren Bent’s recent injury is far from ideal, but with 29 precious points to their name already, they should – just about – have what it takes to survive.
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